Access Fund Gets Wilderness Climbing Protections Through Congress

Access Fund is thrilled to announce that it has secured critical protections for Wilderness climbing within the landmark Natural Resources Management Act that just passed Congress. Access Fund also celebrates the role of climbers in getting this historic, bipartisan public lands package through Congress.

Climbing in Linville Gorge Wilderness. The Natural Resources Management Act sets a positive precedent for protecting Wilderness climbing across the country. Photo courtesy of © Bryan Miller | Fixed Line Media

With the passing of the Natural Resources Management Act, Wilderness climbing protections are poised to be written into law for the first time, creating a legal precedent that will make it easier for Access Fund and its local affiliates to protect Wilderness climbing activities across the country. The bill now sits on the President’s desk, and he has indicated that he plans to sign this bipartisan bill into law.

Access Fund has been working for years to create precedent setting federal laws that protect low-impact climbing activities in America’s Wilderness areas. The Emery County Public Land Management Act, which is a centerpiece of the Natural Resource Management Act, offered the first significant opportunity for Access Fund to protect Wilderness climbing activities, including conditional placement and maintenance of fixed anchors, through legislation.

Emery County is home to world-class rock climbing at San Rafael Swell, and Access Fund’s public policy team has been working closely with Utah Congressman John Curtis and Senator Orrin Hatch (and later Senator Mitt Romney, who introduced the bill in the 116th Congress) to improve recreation and conservation provisions within the Emery County public lands bill, including a provision that specifically protects Wilderness climbing. This effort resulted in a bill that will protect 700,000 acres as Wilderness in Emery County, Utah—more than any Wilderness bill passed in the last 2 decades.

“From day one, Access Fund has been an important partner in advancing the Emery County Public Land Management Act,” says Congressman Curtis. “Their staff approached us wanting to solve problems facing our public lands and ensure climbers had a voice in that process. They advocated to clarify the treatment of climbing activities in designated areas, and as a result of their hard work, climbers will be able to enjoy the world class recreation in Emery County, Utah for years to come.”

“Not only did climbers help conserve this incredible landscape, but we now have a legal precedent protecting low-impact climbing activities in Wilderness,” says Erik Murdock, Access Fund Policy Director. “This is a huge win for the climbing and Wilderness communities, with positive implications for every Wilderness climbing area in the country. Climbers look forward to supporting more Wilderness designations that help conserve our public lands and protect the climbing experience.”

World-class rock climbing at San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah will be given Wilderness protections thanks to the Natural Resource Management Act. Photo courtesy of © Kennan Harvey

Some of the most iconic climbing in the world is located in federally designated Wilderness areas, including Yosemite, Black Canyon, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain, Red Rock, Linville Gorge, and many others.

For decades, the lack of clear federal policies on Wilderness climbing activities has led to land management conflicts and unsubstantiated climbing restrictions all across the country. Historically, Access Fund has worked to resolve these conflicts at the administrative level by partnering with federal land management agencies to develop well-informed climbing management policies. This approach has certainly seen success, but it has been slow and high-level policies are often left up to the interpretation of field-based land managers across the country.

Now, Wilderness climbing protections have been written into law for the first time, creating a legal precedent that will make it easier for Access Fund and its local affiliates to protect Wilderness climbing activities across the country.

“It’s hard to overstate how important the Natural Resource Management Act is for protecting America's public lands and the Wilderness climbing experience,” says Tommy Caldwell, pro climber. “Thanks to the Access Fund for rallying the community for better and stronger protections. And I’m incredibly grateful to all of the climbers who wrote letters and called their Congressional reps to support this bill. Climbers are a force. Let's keep up the momentum and support more public lands protection bills, such as my home state of Colorado's CORE Act, during this Congress!”

The good news doesn’t end with the Emery County benefits. The Natural Resource Management Act also provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a critical conservation tool that Access Fund and its partners have used to acquire or protect 12 climbing areas across the country for permanent conservation—including world-class climbing at Hueco Tanks in Texas, Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, New River Gorge in West Virginia, Castle Crags in California, and many others.

“Wilderness climbing in the United States is an incredible experience,” says Chris Winter, Access Fund Executive Director. “It’s up to us to protect the resource and minimize our impact while advocating for continued access so future generations have that same opportunity. This is a huge win for the climbing community and for conservation.””

Access Fund would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to its members and the climbing advocacy community for rallying behind the public lands package. Access Fund members submitted nearly 10,000 letters to Congress to show their support and were critical in passing this historic public lands package.

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